A citizen’s call to fellow Indians on Independence Day eve

THE POWER OF COLLECTIVE ACTION

Pic: Rameshng/Wikimedia Commons

In a day’s time, India will celebrate yet another Independence Day. The usual chest thumping will happen, followed by posts of jawans’ sacrifices, Rehman’s Vande Maataram, snippets of the “Tryst with Destiny” speech, and salutes to the tricolour. While I personally don’t like this overt display, it is a fact that India will justifiably, proudly and loudly, reaffirm its democratic ideals, and its increasingly prominent place in the comity of nations.

It is also a good time to introspect, and instil this same sense of pride that we have of our country, in our states, our cities and villages, and into the communities we live in. We need the same democracy to function in these smaller pockets.

Our cities are becoming large urban waste-lands, our natural resources are depleting rapidly, and our society is progressing towards moral bankruptcy. Public assets are exploited by a few, aided and abetted by the powerful. Our roads are in eternal disrepair, our water supplies are erratic, our power systems are unreliable, our sewage is not collected, and if collected, it is let untreated into water bodies.

Our policing is sporadic, our criminals are not punished, and if punished, it is too little or too late, our walls are public urinals, and our railway lines are public toilets. We either actively bribe officials, and if we do not, we look the other way when our friends do. We do not believe in lines, or orderliness; we thrive in chaos, and love shortcuts.

Things have come to such a pass only because we have shunned our responsibility all these years. We felt that our commitment to making this country/state/community tick was limited to casting our vote every few years. We simply shrug, cuss or scream, and move on, assured that nothing can change this southward slide.

It is time however that we pause this rapid slide towards anarchy, and make full use of the democracy we have been gifted. And for that, we need to commit our time. We all need to volunteer our time for a common cause. If we collectively push our corporator or representative for action, he will be forced into action.

We can get streets repaired by collective action. We can get garbage collected, segregated and responsibly disposed of, by collective action. We can have our water bodies restored by collective action. If we urge our neighbours to desist from turning streets and walkways into garbage dumps, we can save our neighbourhood from blight. There are enough examples of such successes right here in India. It is just that we have not managed to scale it up.

Our problems are plenty, the list is endless. It is unreal to expect our elected representatives to act always in our common interest, or our public institutions to either have the talent pool, desire or manpower, to solve all these problems quickly. But there are solutions – and these solutions start with us. We have to act. We have to commit time.

My personal belief is that if each of us commit three hours of our personal time each week to a cause – any cause, that is common in nature, we will collectively make a huge difference – to our neighbourhood, to our towns and cities, and thereby to the nation.

Be a traffic warden in your neighbourhood, be a member of the neighbourhood watch committee, help traffic police come up with sensible traffic routing ideas, be the police-citizen interface, be the citizen rep who joins public hearings on new infrastructure projects, be the watchdog that reports illegal dumping of waste, …. DO SOMETHING though.

Yes, each of us is pressed for time. But if we are smart and committed, we will find time for this too. A better community directly affects our well-being. Better quality water means a healthier family. A pothole-free road is a safer road for our children to ride on. A well-lit street is potentially a crime-free street, which our kids can walk with nary a worry. And so on…

No government, and no government official can consistently face sustained public wrath and pressure, and still not do anything. He will eventually be forced to act – wilfully or under duress. This I am absolutely certain of.

Nothing of what I have written would be a revelation to you. So why not be the change agent then? Let us work to make this a better India that we can proudly bequeath to our next generation. And all it will take is THREE HOURS A WEEK.

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